To say the Pebble smartwatch is a Kickstarter success story would be an understatement almost as big as the disparity between the amount of money the company was trying to raise ($100,000) and the amount of money the company actually raised ($10,266,845).
The $150 watch connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth to display and control incoming calls, text messages, e-mail, and music playback. Developers will be able to create apps and custom watch faces that can be loaded onto the Pebble as well, and it’ll feature integration with task automation website IFTTT.
While Pebble isn’t the first connected smartwatch by any stretch, its use of a low-power, monochrome e-paper screen means it’ll be able to run for around seven days before needing to be recharged. Smartwatches with commonly-used color LCD screens need to be charged more frequently.
At first glance, Pebble’s screen appears similar to the screens found in e-book readers such as Amazon‘s Kindle, which sacrifice fluidity and complex animation for weeks and weeks of battery life. But at a press conference during the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday, Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky told a group of reporters, “This display is not actually e-ink. It’s an LCD variant, which means that it still has an amazing refresh rate of 30 frames per second, so we can drive cool animations and user interface elements onto the display.”
Other hardware features include a water-resistant design with a magnetic charging cable that does away with exposed ports, an ambient light sensor, a magnetometer, a vibrating motor and an accelerometer.
Pebble’s relatively robust integration with Android and Apple devices is another selling point. The watch works with Android version 2.3.3 and above, and Apple handsets from the iPhone 3GS to current models. While deep Android integration is more straightforward for connected devices such as the Pebble, doing the same with Apple devices is more challenging. Migicovsky indicated that Pebble would be able to hook more deeply into iOS, but wouldn’t elaborate, saying, “We’ve been sort of dipping and ducking some of the different restrictions that the iOS platform has, but we think we’ve come up with a solution. It’s not ready to go public yet, but interested developers can e-mail us and we can begin working with them to integrate their iOS apps in the same way that Android apps work with push notifications straight to the Pebble.”
Although Pebble became the most highly-funded Kickstarter project ever, it couldn’t escape a problem that seems to plague many other high-profile gadgets born from crowdfunding sites: blown ship dates.
Pebble was originally estimated to ship in September of 2012, but the first shipment of watches is now scheduled for January 23. “The first idea when we launched our Kickstarter project was that we’d probably manufacture one- or two-thousand Pebbles locally in the Bay Area,” said Migicovsky. “When the project exploded on day one, we decided to shift gears and implement another strategy that we had been working on, which was to manufacture in large quantities in an overseas manufacturing facility.”
Migicovsky mentioned that the watches are now in mass production, with 15,000 being made per week. The first six to eight weeks of shipments will go to Kickstarter backers, with website preorders to ship after that.
As part of the press conference, Migicovsky demonstrated some of Pebble’s software features and user interface elements. The below video doesn’t really do the watch justice, as the projector being used to display the demo had a low framerate that made the animations appear far less fluid than they actually are.
In person, the nuts and bolts of the watch look solid — now it’ll be up to developers to crank out cool apps. Given the popularity of Pebble, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly its app platform gets established and, more importantly, whether larger gadget makers take notice and start producing Pebble-like watches – and apps — of their own.